By JESSICA NEU
Making her Pittsburgh debut, acclaimed performer Meow Meow brings style, pizazz, comedy, and thought to the Pittsburgh Culturat Trust’s Greer Cabaret Theater. The self-proclaimed Post-Post-Modern Diva has sold out shows worldwide and was named one of the New Yorker’s “Top Performers of the Year” and hailed as “sensational” by The Times, UK.
The title “Post-Post-Modern Diva” references the postmodern era, or postmodernity, which some say began in the early 1940s, but other scholars argue started in the 1950s or early 60s. The period is marked by a space that allowed for multiple narratives representing discourse in varying ways and celebrated difference and multiplicity. Postmodernism welcomed new ideas about art and design, mainly focusing on self-awareness and style. Postmodernity has given way to our current temporal moment of hypermodernity, but Meow Meow’s show transports us back to the beginning of postmodernity.
Engaging the audience throughout the show, Meow Meow blends comedy with political commentary that is borderline tragic but also poignantly accurate. Accompanied by a solo pianist and a small set of chairs and suitcases representing the traveling showgirl with a suitcase always packed and ready to go, Meow Meow boldly takes the stage and opens by stating, “this is when the audience usually throws flowers at me.” She then ran off stage, returning with a bouquet of roses, which she dispersed to several audience members before returning to the stage and stating, “This is when the audience usually throws flowers at me.” Of course, the chosen audience members follow suit, and with roses flying through the air, the show begins.
Throughout the show, Meow Meow retreats behind the carefully stacked suitcases for two impressive costume changes and also engages the crowd while still making jokes about social distancing and performing in a pandemic era. One of her closing numbers includes several male audience volunteers and will become a core hilarious memory any time you hear someone mention personal protective equipment (PPE) in the future.
Meow Meow is careful to maintain this high comedic energy throughout the show to serve as a foil to the more serious content of her musical numbers. She begins the show with a political song from 1920s Germany. While those who are not fluent in German will not understand the exact lyrics, Meow Meow explains that the song is about the notion that “everything we experience is a lie” and that most emotion is futile because, eventually, “we are all going to die.” Even though his song may have been written in the 1920s, and without understanding German, the audience is still provoked with a familiar feeling as we exist in a time marked by claims of disinformation, leading us to grapple with the notion of truth and how to detect real or honest information.
Nihilism becomes a recurrent theme as she sings several other songs about post-war Germany and discusses how the devastation of the war damaged the Germans’ psyches and that they could not celebrate the end of the war, which felt meaningless because they knew they were all too aware of their inevitable mortality.
Meow Meow also gives a bit of a history lesson as she talks about how German musicians fused American Jazz music into their works throughout the 1920s and 30s. Meow Meow demonstrated this influence in a song about politics, hope, desperation, dissonance, joy, and tragedy. Again, those unfamiliar with German will not be able to understand each word. Still, her emotions, nonverbal communication, and thematic relevance make her message clear and deliverable. Again, her musical emotivism breaks language barriers as she talks and sings about what it is like to be in exile from the perspective of someone who walks through a city not knowing if they are wanted or loved and only wishing to be happy.
Regardless of whether you speak German or find her comedic relief funny, it is difficult to refute the powerful sentiment conveyed in Meow Meow’s closing number, which expresses that we are living in an “age of refrain.” She sings, “the songs have already been sung, the words already said, and living in an age of propaganda, the times are already seen.” She paused before singing her final line, and the audience was so quiet and so still yet calm that it provided a serene moment in time that I will likely never forget.
One of the main critiques of postmodernity is that many individuals missed the historical moment when art celebrated multiplicity and the difference when individuals focused more on themselves than recognizing the value of others. As such, people have begun to stand above history instead of acknowledging that history continues to repeat itself.
Meow Meow is not just a riotous cabaret diva; she is a reminder that we are entrenched in a historical moment that stands to repeat itself from a century ago, potentially in a frightening refrain. Danke schoen, Meow Meow.
Learn more about upcoming events in the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s Monday night Greer Cabaret series here: https://onstagepittsburgh.com/2023/05/08/pittsburgh-cultural-trust-announces-2023-2024-trust-cabaret-series/